Pregnancy Exercises

Pregnancy is a beautiful thing, but it can be a little uncomfortable and even challenging at times. Exercise during pregnancy might help alleviate many common pregnancy discomforts, benefit the overall health of you and your baby, and boost your mood and your energy level! So, whether you’re looking for ways to incorporate exercise into early pregnancy or want to know which exercises to avoid during pregnancy, check out the tips and insights we've compiled, along with some safe stretches and simple movements you can add to your fitness routine.

Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

Exercise in general can do a lot of good for your pregnant body. Besides strengthening your heart and lungs and improving overall fitness, exercise can help reduce common discomforts, tone and prepare your muscles for labor, boost your energy levels, help you sleep better, and increase blood flow. During your pregnancy, try your best to squeeze in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise, five days a week. This could be brisk walking, gardening, or dancing! Whatever gets your heart rate up and strengthens strategic muscles will help you reap these valuable benefits. Of course, any amount of exercise is helpful during pregnancy, so it’s OK if you don’t make it to 150 minutes each week. Either way, any time spent moving your body will help you obtain the following benefits.

Decreasing Discomfort

When pregnant, you may experience some symptoms or conditions that are uncomfortable, such as digestive issues, body aches, muscle pain, swollen feet and hands, and fatigue. One of the benefits of exercise during pregnancy is that it may minimize some of these common discomforts and conditions, including:

  • Digestive issues. You may experience constipation or heartburn while pregnant, which is commonly triggered by your hormones causing your stomach to empty at a slower rate. Exercise helps with these conditions during pregnancy as it keeps things moving in your intestines.

  • Swelling. It’s common for your body to retain extra fluid while pregnant, and if this happens to you, you might notice some swelling. Exercising gets the blood pumping and increases oxygen levels, helping to reduce swelling in your hands, feet, and legs.

  • Aches and pains. With more weight and pressure on your muscles and ligaments, you are likely to have a few aches and pains throughout pregnancy. Exercise can help tone muscles in your back, butt, and thighs, which can help alleviate pain and improve posture during pregnancy. It can also activate the lubricating fluid in your joints.

Improving Energy Levels and Mood

Your body is working hard during pregnancy, and you might feel more lethargic than usual. Or you may not be getting enough sleep or enough restful sleep, which commonly happens due to stress or not being able to find a comfortable sleeping position as your baby develops. Exercise increases blood flow and releasing endorphins (natural “happy” chemicals in your brain), which can help combat pregnancy fatigue, boost your mood, relieve stress and anxiety, and increase energy levels. Plus, exercise can give you a sense of control at a time when your body and daily life is changing.

Toning Muscles to Prepare for Labor

At the same time as relieving discomforts and boosting energy, exercise helps your body prepare for labor, especially within those muscle groups around your hips and abdomen. You might also experience Braxton Hicks contractions as early as your third trimester. Known as practice contractions or “false labor,” these contractions simulate labor and are also working your muscles to prepare for delivery! Practice is important because labor can be hard work. Having toned muscles, a healthy heart, and strong lungs can help make the process more comfortable. Additionally, exercise during pregnancy can assist you with breathing, which will come in handy during labor and delivery.

Increasing Blood Flow

Another perk of exercise during pregnancy, one that also benefits your baby, is that it increases blood flow throughout your body, strengthening your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. This benefits your little one, as physical activity can increase blood flow in the umbilical cord, which then boosts circulation in the placenta and supports your baby’s heart.

Supporting Healthy Weight Gain

Exercise during pregnancy can help you maintain a healthy weight for your body type. You can use our Pregnancy Weight Gain Calculator to determine your pre-pregnancy BMI and track your weight within ranges that are recommended for your body. Keep in mind that weight gain during pregnancy is totally normal and necessary, with much of the added weight coming from your developing baby, fluids in your body, and a growing placenta. But by incorporating some exercise into your pregnancy, you can help ensure that you’re not gaining too much weight in the form of fat. And by maintaining an exercise routine while pregnant, you may be able to lose weight more easily after pregnancy, too.

May Reduce Risks of Complications

By incorporating exercise into your pregnancy, you may decrease the risk of certain complications, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery. If you already have preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, talk with your healthcare provider to determine if exercise is a good choice for you.

Best Types of Exercise During Pregnancy

Considering all the benefits of exercise during pregnancy, you might be ready to jump on board and get moving—but perhaps you don’t know where to start. Generally speaking, there are some types of exercise that are better than others when you're pregnant, and some to avoid during pregnancy (always check with your healthcare provider to make sure it’s OK for you to exercise while pregnant, especially if you haven't been physically active before you became pregnant). Most experts agree that the best exercise during pregnancy is aerobic activity. Look for low impact but also moderately intense exercise, meaning you’re moving the big muscles in your body (arms and legs) enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, but not enough to lose your breath completely. Think of it this way: You can still chat with your baby bump, but you can’t sing!

General Exercise and Activity During Pregnancy

There are plenty of safe forms of exercise you can try during pregnancy, including the following:

  1. Walking. Not everyone is an athlete, so if you’re just starting off with exercise, walking is a great way to slowly establish a routine. It’s easy on your joints and you can do it anywhere, even inside your home. Remember that you want to get your heart rate up, so try brisk walking, adding in a few hills, or increasing the distance as you build your stamina.

  2. Cycling. If you can use a stationary bike, either at home or at the gym, cycling is one of the best aerobic exercises for pregnancy. It’s gentle on your joints while offering a moderately intense workout. (But using a stationary bike is important, because falling from a moving bicycle could harm you or your baby.)

  3. Swimming. As you progress in your pregnancy, you may want to give swimming a try. This exercise supports your weight in the water, so it’s easy on your muscles while giving you a thorough workout.

  4. Modified yoga and modified Pilates. These are good choices for toning and stretching your muscles, improving your flexibility and balance, and promoting focused breathing. You may want to look for a class that's designed for pregnant women, as some yoga and Pilates poses and exercises aren’t safe during pregnancy. Many classes also include meditation and relaxation techniques that can help with stress and also with getting through labor.

  5. Tai chi. With movements that are slower and more controlled, tai chi is great for alleviating stress-related pain. Plus, it improves flexibility, balance, energy, and muscle tone.

  6. Dancing. If you enjoyed dancing before your pregnancy, you might like to keep it up as a gentle aerobic exercise. Just be sure to avoid movements such as bouncing, leaping, or changing directions abruptly.

Safe and Simple Exercises for Pregnancy

Now that you know what kind of exercise is best during pregnancy, you can also consider incorporating some specific stretches and movements to help strengthen the muscles in your abdomen, back, hips, and pelvic floor, which are where common pregnancy aches and pains tend to linger.

If you don’t want to leave the comfort of your house or buy a gym membership, you can try these simple at-home exercises during your pregnancy. You’ll need a yoga ball or exercise ball for a few of them.

Ab Exercises for Your Pregnancy

If you’re currently pregnant or have been pregnant in the past, then you know it can be a struggle just to sit up with that baby bump in the way! As your baby develops, your abdominal muscles slowly stretch to make room, putting pressure on that muscle group. Ab exercises for pregnancy can help strengthen and support your body as you get bigger and help keep those typical aches and pains in check. They’re also ideal for exercising after pregnancy to help rebuild lost abdominal strength. Some excellent ab exercises for pregnancy include:

Back Exercises for Your Pregnancy

As your pregnancy progresses, you might start to experience some back pain, especially in the lower back. An expanding and shifting uterus, stretching abdominal muscles, extra weight, and hormonal changes all play a role. Body changes weaken your muscles and put stress on your joints—the perfect recipe for back pain. Luckily, there are a number of stretches and movements that help ease your aching back. Try these safe and gentle back exercises for pregnancy:

Lower Body Exercises During Pregnancy

During childbirth, your pelvic muscles, nerves, and joints get a serious workout. As your pregnancy progresses, you may experience some pelvic bone pain as your hormones prompt the loosening of joints to prepare for delivery. Exercising this muscle group, plus your lower-body muscles, might help reduce pain and prepare your body for labor. In addition to the abdominal exercises listed above, you can also try the following lower-body and pelvic floor exercises to alleviate pain in pregnancy:

Dos and Don’ts of Exercise During Pregnancy

During your pregnancy, it’s most likely OK to perform any type of exercise mentioned above. But, of course, you want to stick to safe exercise and know what to avoid during pregnancy. We’ve compiled a list of the most commons dos and don’ts, but always consult your healthcare provider before your start exercising.

Dos of Exercising During Pregnancy

As you start exercising or building an exercise routine, consider the following tips to help you stay safe and healthy:

  • Do dress comfortably. Wearing a sports bra to protect your breasts, loose clothing to stay cool, and a belly support belt later in pregnancy can help you exercise more efficiently and safely during pregnancy.

  • Do drink water. Stay safe and hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your exercise routine. Signs of dehydration include a racing or pounding heart, dizziness, and urine that’s dark yellow.

  • Do start gradually. If you weren’t active before pregnancy, start exercising gradually. Even just five minutes a day will have its benefits! Over time, you can keep adding 5 more minutes until you work your way up to the recommended 30 minutes.

  • Do listen to your body. Your body will tell you if you need to slow down, stop exercising, or take it easy for a while.

Some common signs that tell you to stop exercising and contact your healthcare provider include:

  • Vaginal bleeding or unusual fluid leaking from your vagina

  • Unusual pain or shortness of breath

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • A racing heartbeat or chest pain

  • Uterine contractions.

Don’ts of Exercising During Pregnancy

Knowing what not to do with exercise is important, too, especially when your body is changing and growing. Consider the following things to avoid when exercising while pregnant:

  • Don’t exercise in hot weather. Exercising outside in hot or humid weather is risky when pregnant. Either skip a day if it’s too hot or do your workout in a room with air conditioning.

  • Don’t push yourself if you’re feeling sick. If you have morning sickness or just don’t feel well one day, skip exercising or do some light stretches.

  • Don’t stand still or lie flat. Standing still for a while can cause blood to pool in your legs or feet and lying flat on your back can put pressure on a vein that carries blood back to your heart. In either position, your blood pressure may decrease.

Who Shouldn’t Exercise During Pregnancy

Before you start any exercises for pregnancy or begin an exercise program, consult your healthcare provider. Some health conditions may limit your options, while others might require you to avoid exercising altogether. Among these conditions are:

Exercise and Sports to Avoid During Pregnancy

Though you'll want to follow your healthcare provider's guidance on what's best for you during your pregnancy, there are some general types of activity, sports, and exercise to avoid during pregnancy. Most of the following could put you at risk for falling and hurting yourself or your baby:

  • Downhill skiing is risky because it's easy to fall and injure yourself or your baby. High altitude activities are also not recommended, especially at elevations above 6,000 feet, as you could get altitude sickness.

  • Fast-paced activities requiring balance are tricky. As your belly expands, your center of gravity shifts and you may seem less coordinated. It’s a good idea to avoid sports like skating, horseback riding, and gymnastics.

  • Fast-paced water activities and diving are not safe choices for you and your baby. Although swimming is a great exercise during pregnancy, avoid sports such as surfing, water skiing, and scuba diving.

  • Contact sports can lead to crashes, falls, and injuries, so stay away from activities like soccer, basketball, volleyball, and hockey.

  • Bikram yoga requires a very hot environment, so it’s best to avoid this type of yoga class when pregnant. In general, yoga is a safe exercise during pregnancy, but after your first trimester, you’ll want to steer clear of moves on your back or belly. If you take a yoga class that's not specifically for pregnant women, give your instructor a head’s up that you’re pregnant.

The Bottom Line

Whether it’s your first or fifth pregnancy, exercises can help you along the way, alleviating those typical aches and pains and preparing your body for labor. Try to get moving and squeeze in some exercise (walking, gardening, yoga, etc.) each day during pregnancy, if possible. For more ideas, download our free guide to exercising while pregnant.

If you’re at the end of your pregnancy and looking toward the future, feel free to incorporate the aforementioned exercises (side planks, pelvic tilts, back bends, wall slides, seated twists, etc.) into your postpartum routine! Exercise after pregnancy is just as helpful as exercise during pregnancy.